Transportation and logistics is a challenging industry, especially since the onset of the pandemic. With Kivi Bros Trucking in its third generation of family ownership – and flourishing the way it is – they must be doing something right. Or perhaps, many things right.
Business in Focus had the opportunity to sit down with the current owners, brothers Derek and Tyler Kivi who provided fascinating insight into the evolution of the company. They also shared their view of the future, which looks pretty bright from the outside.
Kivi Bros Trucking is an open deck, heavy haul carrier with broad capabilities and extensive resources that has built its success on a foundation of family, integrity, and hard work. It is a legacy in the making and a trusted name.
Regarding the history of the company, Tyler explains, “Kivi Trucking is what it was called, which started in the 1950s with my grandfather. His name was Henry Kivi. They hauled a variety of freight from concrete culverts to logging. So, fast forward from the 1950s to 1995.
“His sons — my father Jeff and my uncles Mark and Robert — formed Kivi Brothers Trucking, which ran from 1995 to 2017, which is when Derek and I purchased the company from them.”
The real heavy haul
Today, Kivi Bros Trucking operates across the continental United States, Canada and into Alaska. Four terminals support it – the headquarters in Duluth, Minnesota; and facilities in Blaine, Minnesota; Harrodsburg, Kentucky; and Kimball, Wisconsin.
From these, the company serves the lumber industry, manufacturers, heavy equipment, and all who need expertise moving valuable freight. According to Tyler, when it comes to heavy haul loads, “Those guys are extremely experienced. They’re top caliber and they get paid for it.”
The company’s breadth of capability across all loads and conditions is enhanced by the versatility and range of equipment that includes Peterbilt, Kenworth, Volvo, and Western Star – and when it comes to trailers, a special loyalty to Ritenour. With 300 trucks and around 400 employees, Kivi Bros has grown impressively.
“As far as our services go, they are a little more particular to the equipment we offer. We’re an open deck carrier, so we provide flat-bed, step deck, Conestoga, and RGN. We also have some extremely specialized trailers so they offer a wide variety of services,” says Tyler. In addition, there are less-than-truckload (LTL) services.
At Kivi Bros Trucking, the goal is to provide safe, reliable transportation services that deliver the same standard of quality that has come to be expected since the founding of the company three generations ago. With the family name and reputation on the line, these ambitions are taken very seriously.
When asked what underpins the company’s success, Tyler sees a simple underlying reason. “I would have to lean on the commitment we have from our family, because it’s a heavily influenced family company. There’s Derek and I, and another brother who works directly in operations, and we have uncles who still work here, and we hope to have our own kids join in someday. The commitment from our family has always stood strong.”
There is a real dedication to the maintenance and enforcement of exacting standards of quality, safety, and service, an exceptional work culture and a work environment that breeds success, which seems so often characteristic of family-owned operations.
“We’ve never wavered from challenges or challenging times and the same goes for our employees. Once our employees get involved, they show that same kind of challenge-accepted mentality,” says Tyler. Good hiring and training practices go a long way in this regard.
He also notes, “The requirements we have set are higher than the standard requirements. When we hire the driver, they go through an orientation, and we have some of the best trainers/teachers in the world.”
The trainers are veteran drivers who work one-on-one with the drivers after the paid orientation period to ensure that the driver is comfortable and has the resources and information to do his or her job safely. This includes instruction and practice on how best to use available deck space while loading cargo.
“We want to set our drivers up for success – not only our drivers, but the company, too. And doing that starts at the very beginning,” says Tyler. The beginning is where Derek, Tyler and their family started as well.
“Derek and I both carry CDLs and that’s not only because we learned from the bottom up, but we enforce the idea that we lead by example. There’re things that we make sure we understand. We get out there and get our hands dirty. We’re always familiar with what’s going on and people enjoy that,” explains Tyler.
Leading by example has always been a defining principle of the culture at Kivi Bros Trucking. Everyone is part of a team that collaborates to uphold the company’s reputation. The result is an open, transparent, and honest business model. They are an open deck carrier with an open-door policy.
“Integrity for us is very important,” said Tyler of the company culture. “As far as drivers are concerned, we’ve got a wide variety of freight, so when you couple that with the equipment we have to offer, it makes several opportunities for them.”
Just the deal for drivers
One of the greatest opportunities for drivers is the pay structure. Whereas many carriers are mileage based, Kivi Bros Trucking offers drivers a percentage, which is viewed as greatly beneficial. They also have the possibility of LTL which gives them the opportunity to earn two to three times what a mileage-based driver could.
That sounds almost too good, but Tyler confirms it, “especially in this market right now, because they benefit instantly. They don’t have to look for a raise – they get that raise when the market is like it is now, when the capacity is tight. We really give them an opportunity to make the most out of every trip.”
Another benefit for drivers is having experiences that will not only reward them financially, but also provides memories for a lifetime. Tyler still recalls his first trip to Alaska, which seems to be the memory that drivers relish the most.
“We send a lot of our first timers up there and it’s probably something that they’ll talk about for the rest of their lives. So, to give that opportunity to somebody not only to make money, but to enjoy going and doing a first that they’ve never done, and might never do again – that’s something they’ll always talk about,” Tyler says.
The good news for Kivi Bros Trucking is that the market is extremely hot right now, which means there is no shortage of opportunity, but COVID has certainly introduced its share of challenges in an already difficult industry.
Kivi Bros Trucking, despite not having the opportunity to go into restrooms or eateries at the height of the pandemic when shutdowns challenged the economy, continues to keep on trucking, both literally and figuratively. The team continues to offer outstanding performance and service despite the unique challenges of these times.
Keeping it Kivi
For Tyler, the goal is to maintain the value proposition the Kivi family has worked hard to establish.
“There’s so much that is always changing and coming at us, so navigating through this while providing the best that we can and maintaining that integrity is what we want.” Continued diversification and sustainable growth as an asset carrier will follow, as surely as it has for seven decades.
The team at Kivi Bros Trucking – drivers, management, and support staff – will continue to face challenges head on to ensure that assignments get where they need to go, and arrive when they need to be there.
Hard work like theirs keeps the economy moving and the market strong, while above all they strive to keep themselves and the motoring public safe. It is the Kivi way and so it will continue for many years to come.